Local phishing tale tip of virus’ scam iceberg | #scams | #elderlyscams
An innocuous warning issued by an area United Way agency may seem of little consequence, except that it represents a minuscule ripple in the tsunami scale of fraud being perpetrated in this state and nationwide on a public distracted by a viral pandemic.
According to the Fitchburg-based United Way of North Central Massachusetts, several donors received an email from no-reply@ uvvncm.org, purportedly from United Way, inviting them to its annual Thank You Event.
The email asks recipients to click on a link to register for the event, where they’re asked to supply their Microsoft Office 365 email and password, according to a release from the legitimate organization.
The United Way’s IT team determined the attempt to secure personal information was part of a fairly sophisticated phishing ploy that included specific information about the organization and its Thank You Event activities, which can be obtained from its website.
Even the bogus domain name used — UVVNCM.ORG — comes close to replicating the actual site, UWNCM.ORG.
But as a recent Los Angeles Times article articulated, this COVID-19 pandemic has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for scammers, con artists and other assorted lowlifes looking to cash in on this most trying time of our lives.
The Federal Trade Commission has substantiated that proposition with a report showing how badly Americans were abused in 2020.
Among the findings:
• Consumers reported losing more than $3.3 billion to fraud, up an astonishing 83% from $1.8 billion a year before.
• More than one-third of consumers filing fraud reports reported losing money, up from just 23% in 2019.
• Impostor scams involving people pretending to be government officials, relatives in distress or others were the most common racket, accounting for nearly $1.2 billion in losses.
• Schemes involving online sales were the second-most frequently reported fraud, representing $246 million in losses, followed by tried-and-true ruses such as bogus lotteries and sweepstakes.
Massachusetts ranked 24th among states in the number of fraud and other claims per 100,000 of population — more than 53,000 — with identity theft far and away the main culprit, accounting for 46% of those complaints.
Nationally, more than 406,000 people told the FTC last year that their identities had been stolen by fraudsters applying for government benefits or documents. That’s a massive increase from about 23,000 such reports in 2019.
So, vigilance remains the watchword — and that goes for people of all ages.
The FTC report poked holes in the common assumption that senior citizens comprise the most scam-prone population.
While frequently preyed on, the FTC found that people age 70 to 79 represented just 20% of fraud reports. They were overshadowed by people age 20 to 29, who accounted for 44% of reports.
However, elderly individuals remain the richest targets.
The FTC found that people age 80 or older reported a median loss of $1,300 from fraud, whereas those 20 to 29 reported a median loss of $324.
That’s due to a resurgence in the grandparent scam.
Things got so bad last year, AARP issued a warning for all seniors to think twice during the pandemic before succumbing to pleas for cash from a supposed loved one.
No legitimate law-enforcement or government official will discourage you from performing due diligence when money is requested.
And that goes for the Internal Revenue Service. According to an IRS spokesman, “we generally do business the old-fashioned way — through the mail.”
That’s the same procedure followed by our state’s major utilities, National Grid and Eversource.
If someone calls from those two entities demanding immediate payment over the phone — or through a text — hang up or hit the delete button.
In summary, these words should be your mantra in this pandemic — stay alert and retain a healthy skepticism.
If something sounds suspicious or too good to be true, it usually is.